When the coronavirus pandemic hit, colleges across the nation sent students packing, telling them to get off campus. The schools vowed to the students that shortly they would resume classes, but only in an online format. The students didn't need to fear: The education would be just about as good.
Well, students from more than 25 U.S. universities are calling balderdash on their colleges' promises and are now suing the schools to get at least part of their tuition and fees back, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Why? The students say they are not getting the quality of education the universities promised when the whole COVID-19 crisis hit.
According to the AP, at least 26 colleges are being targeted with class-action lawsuits demanding tuition refunds. The schools include wealthy private schools — such as Drexel, Vanderbilt, Brown, Cornell, and Columbia — and large public universities like Michigan State, Purdue, the University of Colorado, and the University of California, Berkeley.
The students say they are frustrated with the online classes that schools "scrambled to create" when the campuses closed, the AP said. The suits state that students should pay lower tuition rates for the part of the year that was moved to online-only, saying that the quality of the education has gone way down.
One student who filed a suit against Drexel University told the AP that the online courses have little interaction with professors — and some are even pre-recorded and offer zero discussion.
A lawsuit against Cal-Berkeley, the AP reported, says professors are just uploading assignments without providing any video component.
The schools, of course, disagree, saying no refunds are in order because students are still learning form the same professors and are still earning credits that count for their degrees.
The AP cited one school spokesman, Ken McConnellogue of the University of Colorado, who said that not only are the lawsuits disappointing, considering they are coming just weeks into the pandemic, but also the suits look like they are being pushed by some "opportunistic" law firms.
The AP pointed out that some of the suits do "draw attention to schools' large financial reserves, saying colleges are unfairly withholding refunds even while they rest on endowments that often surpass $1 billion."
Lawyers for the students said that it's all about fairness and giving the money back to the families that need it. From the AP:
“You cannot keep money for services and access if you aren't actually providing it," said Roy Willey, a lawyer for the Anastopoulo Law Firm in South Carolina, which is representing students in more than a dozen cases. “If we're truly going to be all in this together, the universities have to tighten their belts and refund the money back to students and families who really need it."
Willey said his office has received hundreds of inquiries from students looking to file suits, and his firm is looking into dozens of possible cases. Other firms taking on similar cases say they're also seeing a wave of demand from students and parents who say they deserve refunds.
When combined with the demands for refunds for student fees covering things like gyms, labs, and libraries, schools are looking at complaints seeking several thousand dollars per student.